With the first day of school still a clear memory and fall holidays right around the corner, the focus of many school districts is on a single obscure event that typically falls during the months of September or October. Count day is the one day of the school year that means everything to schools in terms of the amount of funding they receive. For every student that can be accounted for on this special day, funds are allotted for that school. During a time when school budgets are stretched well past their comfort levels, it is no wonder that count day is becoming bigger than any other day of the year for some school districts.
This video explains how student attendance affects school funding.
Why Count Day?
According to the Michigan state government website, count day is the day when all the public schools in the state total up all of the students attending their schools. The event also occurs in other states, like Colorado and Indiana. On this day, the number of students tallied adds up to direct funding for the school. For example, every student counted on count day in Colorado brings an additional $6,400 into the school in which he is enrolled, according to data in the Denver Post. In the Detroit Public School system, every student accounted for on count day means more than $7,000 for the school.
Count days typically take place in both the fall and winter school terms. However, in Michigan, the fall count day makes up 90 percent of the school’s funding this year, while the winter count day in February only provides 10 percent of the total funding. Each student tallied on count day must be legally enrolled in the school prior to or on that specific date. To be counted, students must attend school that day and stay for all of the instruction provided on that day.
Getting Kids into the Classroom
As one might suspect with this type of system, getting children into the classroom on count day becomes a high priority for school districts that must depend on this method for their funding. In Detroit, some schools were enticing children to attend school by throwing parties complete with inflatables, gift card giveaways, and even live musical entertainment, according to a report at the Detroit Free Press. Detroit school officials admitted that while attendance is important for students every day of the year, it becomes absolutely critical on count day. This year, the district needed 65,000 additional children on count day to make their budget for the year and avoid more cuts.
“If we don’t have that, we don’t have the fund from the state to educate kids,” Roy Roberts, emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools told the Detroit Free Press.
Across the tri-county area that makes up the Detroit Public School system, enrollment has dropped somewhat between 2006 and 2010 in many of the districts, for a 10-percent decrease in enrollment overall. On any given day, the system might see around 60,500 students attend school, although about 10,000 more are actually registered. The goal of DPS this year was to get as many of those 10,000 into their seats as possible on this important day.
This video explains how to deal with chronic student absenteeism.
Coercion and Bribery
In Colorado, the stakes are just as high and the pressure as great. The Denver Post reports that some schools have been known to push parents to register children for school early just to get them in by count day. Others offer bribes to ensure kids make it to school for the headcount.
“A lot of effort goes into getting students there just for that one day,” one Denver principal told the Post. “Food, raffles, prizes. Sometimes it like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
The stakes for the fall count day in Michigan are even higher than ever before, spurring schools to do whatever possible to get kids into the classroom. In the past, the fall count day used to account for only 75 percent of the district’s budget, but this year, the percentage went up to 90. With more riding on this single day, schools in the state are doing everything they can to ensure they get their piece of the state budget pie.
“Well, the school aid fund, which is the state pot of money that funds public education in Michigan is what it is, right now it’s roughly $11 billion,” Martin Ackley of the Michigan Department of Education told WLNS. “School districts have to find a way to use that money to educate every child, whether it is $11 billion or $12 billion or $9 billion – it is important that all of our kids get a quality education and that school districts are innovative on how they deliver that instruction.”
This video reports on one school district's Count Day strategy.
Enrollment Increases Bring Happy Count Day
In Michigan at least, count day was a mostly happy event, since this area plagued by the effects of the recession has finally seen some growth in the housing market and population over the past year. According to mLive.com, many school officials attributed the larger classroom numbers to a more stable housing market.
“I think we’re headed out of the recession,” Scott Palczewski, superintendent of Kentwood Public Schools, told mLive.com. Palczewski added that the draw to his district might also have something to do with the diversity within the district and the increased focus on technology use. He explained, “People are looking for those skills they’ll need to thrive in a global economy, and working in a diverse environment is important.”
In tight economies, count days are more important than ever for struggling school districts. What will next year bring?
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